Tinkerer, Tailor, Ditherer, Sailor
Andrew Broder was a free-form tinkerer, a sound collagist who explored the limits of the turntablist/axman hybrid—and, as a secondary consequence, sometimes explored the limits of his listeners' tolerance for experimental head-scratchers.
But through three solo full-length albums under the name Fog (as well as assorted EPs and collaborations), the graffiti-punk grew up. He opened up his curio cabinet of sonic oddities, stolen birdsongs, and sampled loops to make room for a for-real rock band, with drummer Tim Glenn and bassist Mark Erickson. And together, the three of them managed to wrangle and polish Broder's vision of weirdness into something not entirely without choruses and not entirely without structure. (Although those seeking another fix of Brit-pop influenced Twin Cities rock will not find it here.)
This newly disciplined Fog machine packs an average of four-point-five totally solid song ideas into each track. The novelty show here only disappoints when you wish the quirky hook or rousing beat would be allowed to live the full length of the song—sorry. But though the moment will pass all too quickly, it will soon be replaced by some grand new invention.
For those who were drawn into the two-part saga of the "Inflatable Ape" on last summer's Loss Leader EP—rejoice, for the helium simian is back. Those who haven't heard the older versions might find it instructive to look them up on the internet and observe how Fog's physique has changed in a year—where Broder's voice once rushed thinly over puny digital peeps, now a juiced-up, multitracked "just because you're thinking about killing yourself" rant does pushups in a swarm of fierce, metallic, mosquito-y guitars.
Broder is supposedly a Panda Bear fan, and here we get an Animal Collective song that wants to join the radio zoo: "I Have Been Wronged" includes those telling monosyllabic chants, those "tum tum tum tum tum tum"s that melt down walls of resistance to furry experiments in nonsensical harmony. But of course, they're gone before long.
Sometimes the switches can be heartbreaking because they take heartbreak away too soon, before you've had a chance to really sink into the headspace of your own sad, soulful feelings. (If you don't know what I mean 'cause you're not all deep, it's kind of like when a particularly dunderheaded radio DJ segues from the end of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" into the "The Boys Are Back in Town.") Phil Elverum guests on "You Did What You Thought," where the intro unfolds like an unread letter from your birth mother for 38 poignant, momentous seconds, before a jarring flock of Sgt. Pepper's-esque vocals swoop down and snatch it all away.
"On the Gallows" is an old-skool bummer of a Broder bedroom track, complete with background ambient noise—a far-away echo of steel creaking in the wind. At 10-plus minutes, it might even be the last lost Fog EP before the band's current incarnation. Maybe it grew inside Ditherer by accident, like an undeveloped conjoined twin.
There are familiar names sprinkled throughout Ditherer. The title track, with its breaking-and-entering baseline, is a collaboration with Andrew Bird and Martin Dosh. And with a Gram Parsons twang and stately processional beat, Low's Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker assist in bringing the album to ground safely on closer "What's Up Freaks?"
By relinquishing autonomy over his band, Broder has actually achieved a new level of control over those wild ideas that beg to be heard but refuse to perform in conventional song-ish ways. In a world crowded with three-minute pop pap, there's a soaring freedom to be found in the untamed melodies of Fog.
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